I’ve been enjoyed listening to George W. Bush’s audiobook, Out of Many, One. It is a diverse collection of stories and portraits of various immigrants to the United States, read by the former president in full Texan glory.
At the end of each story, the featured person describes the American dream in his or her own words. One particular man’s definition, Mark Haidar, struck me deeply. So deeply that I re-wound and repeated his section 3 times while audiobook-listening and lock-picking one evening. So deeply that I also repeated his chapter twice the next afternoon. So deeply that I don’t have a copy of the e-book, but I listened and transcribed his American dream for you too to enjoy. I hope it resonates with you.
My name is Mark Haidar. To me, the American dream means freedom.
I guess for me it all started when I read the declaration of independence and the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As a 12 years old boy that had none of the 3, I gravitated toward that promise. I wanted to live life in liberty, pursuing happiness. As a person with an entrepreneurial spirit, I gravitated toward that.
The journey to becoming an American was joyfully arduous, and to me becoming an American is the greatest honor to have. It is simply because of what being an American and what the American dream means to me, and it means a lot of things. The American dream is not about having a house in the suburbs, a job, and a car. You can have that anywhere in the world, or at least in a lot of places in the world.
Out of Many, One – by George W. Bush
The American dream is about having a voice, rather than an opinion. The American dream means you have access to opportunity, but without a guarantee for success. The American dream means that you’re compassionate and care about other humans. The American dream means that you reward hard work. The American dream is being a doer, not just a thinker. It is about bringing ideas to life, and not just talking about them. The American dream is believing in yourself and what you’re capable of doing. Most of all, the American dream is about the fact that you’re allowed to dream big. But more importantly, that you’re allowed to fail, miserably.
Immigrants understand what the American dream is all about – that’s because they grew up dreaming it! And when they’re here, they don’t take it for granted. They work for it. To them, the American dream is something to be earned and not given. An immigrant is an American by choice, and not by birth. An immigrant – you have to make a lot of sacrifices, leaving your family, friends, your safety net, your language, and home behind. Leaving everything you know to start from scratch. You do that because you believe in the American dream. Because you believe that being an American is worth fighting and sacrificing for. That’s why immigrants work hard to contribute to America. But also, they bring with them a fresh set of eyes, traditions, perspectives and ideas that enriches our thinking and makes us more diverse.
My advice to the young immigrants coming here today would be: Don’t expect America to be perfect. But know that it is the most imperfectly perfect country in the world.
The road to citizenship will not be easy, but I haven’t seen anything great that wasn’t hard.
Last night, I read a picture book called “Yara’s Amazing Nose”. How many books have you read about tapirs? (pronounced like tah-PEER, not like a taper candle!) I became more curious about this pig-elephant-hippo-like creature, so I searched on YouTube to learn more.
Most YouTube results showed tapirs in zoos, or “8 awesome facts about the tapir!” which didn’t satisfy my snout-shaped curiosity. I wanted to know about how they live in their habitat, if they roam peacefully or are boisterous, how they differ from javalis (ha-va-LEES, jungle pigs), and how they use their nose.
Then it occurred to me — to the English-speaking world, tapirs are mostly unheard of, and documentaries are sparse. What if I searched for results in Spanish? “Que es tapir” I typed in. Lo and behold! Rich documentaries from the Colombian and Mexican forests with footage of tapirs roaming and sniffing around their native habitat. The descriptions were much richer. I learned that tapirs are solitary (unlike javalis), they love eating a variety of fruits, leaves, and seeds, and are important in dissemination of seeds around the forest. Their diet is healthier than mine! They like to roam large areas of forest and water, and have 14 toes in total. They are known as ‘danta’ in Mexico and ‘tsíimin’ in Maya. They’re only natural predators are the jaguar and puma, but poaching and deforestation for farming have made their population endangered. There’s only about 5,500 of these tranquil creatures left in the wild.
I enjoyed learning about the tapir. This also reminded me to consider searching for information in another language I know, to make the most of the both worlds!
I walk around my neighborhood every day, and like discovering Little Free Libraries. These little nooks and crannies are packed with books donated by any passerby, and it’s always a surprise what you’ll find!
I picked up a book called “The Best of Personal Excellence (Volume 2)” edited by Ken Shelton. It’s anthology of 2-page excerpts from well-known figures, entrepreneurs and life coaches. The cover design and font looks a bit dated, and was published in 1999. But on the top of the contributing authors list was “Nelson Mandela”, so I was intrigued. I know little about this great man, and the little I know is mainly through Trevor Noah — not exactly the most professional source, but a valid one nonetheless.
There are about 20 authors listed on the cover. Nelson Mandela appears first, but his excerpt is embedded later. I didn’t look up what page and let it come as a surprise. Lo and behold, when it appeared, it certainly delivered!
“During those long and lonely years, my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people.
The oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
(This excerpt, from “The Best of Personal Excellence” volume 2, is originally from Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom.)
When I hold a grudge against someone, I have a hard time focusing or sleeping well because the negative thoughts and feelings eat me up. I want to forgive sincerely, so I harbor this grudge longer. This often leads to extended suffering, however. The oppressor is shackled too, in a different way than the oppressed but still severely.
Though hard, I am learning how important it is to forgive more easily. This liberates both the oppressor and the oppressed.
I’ve been reading an anthology of short stories & poems from Seattle’s Recovery Cafe writing program. One of the authors is a Vietnamese refugee who came to Seattle when he was 4 years old. His poignant prose and themes struck me, particular in this passage:
“Not My Brother”, from Another American Dream
We started out the same. Born in the same coastal city in Vietnam,
the sons of sisters from our mothers’ side. Refugees on the same boat
in the same graduating class, got jobs,
and began climbing the corporate ladder.
We were more like brothers than cousins.
But somehow, I couldn’t keep climbing.
It seemed the higher I climbed the more the burden
of guilt weighted on me for my executive decisions.
Did I say execute?
I felt like a financial hit man. A corporate bankster.
Everything started to look slick on me.
Slick hair. Slick suits. Slick style.
I was fast becoming a corporate burnout,
my business life an infamous two pots of coffee morning,
two martini lunch, and way more than two hours of happy hour
each and every day.
I got caught in a rung, and fell off the corporate ladder.
Unlike me, Cousin showed no sign of cracking…
This passage transports me back to when I used to do consulting, donning pressed shirts and slacks, corporate badge on retractable clip on my right belt-loop, neat rows of office desks and computers, directors taking out their anger on their managers, managers onto their senior associates, and eventually associates onto the innocent taxi drivers, hotel staff, cafe barista, or whomever else they could shed off some stress. It was a hard world of great pay but great stress that often didn’t make sense. I didn’t climb high onto this ladder, but I didn’t like the cynical person I was becoming. I eventually decided to climb off the rungs and restore myself in a different lifestyle in Peru.
The book is called “Words from the Cafe: An Anthology”. Bang Nguyen and the other authors come from myriad walks of life, but their stories all touch the heart deeply from their life events and wisdom.
I recall thinking, Whoever gets out there first on Rainier Avenue is going to get annihilated. Aside from a mass of overload, what passenger on this green earth is going to be happy, waiting 90 to 120 minutes for a bus that normally comes every fifteen? Whoever that poor soul of a driver is who gets out there first…
Only later did I realize: I am going to be that operator. I didn’t plan it that way; it just happened. I happened to get to Twelfth and Jackson before anyone else did and saw the angry mob. Grab this bull by the horns, I told myself, and dive in. Anything else would be too easy. You were made for stuff like this.
These folks were furious.
They didn’t have the tech access to know why the bus was late or what had been going on. They’d just be seething, for an hour plus…
Speak loudly, confidently, kindly — Thank you for waiting, thanks for your patience, I appreciate your patience tonight…
With this and other similar interactions, we turned the night around. Grab the bull by the horns, and make it happen. It was exhilarating.
Nathan Vass is a Seattle bus driver who writes a great blog and published a book with a collection of stories and photography.
Once, at the downtown Seattle Public Library, I saw a curly mop of hair and light-blue collared shirt running up the yellow escalators. He exuded a great aura of energy & cheer that wasn’t normal. I suspected it was Nathan. Without thinking, I raced up the escalators in order to catch him between floors 7 & 8, but alas lost sight of him amidst the labyrinth of bookshelves. I still think it was him.